Jack London, "South of the Slot," short story, Saturday Evening Post, 22 May 1909|
First published in The Saturday Evening Post, this story reflects many of the themes of this section and, indeed, of the entire toolboxthe struggle for power, class anxieties, labor unrest, professionalization, the role of women, and worry over lost vitality. (See EMPIRE.) The "Slot" is a literal and metaphoric divide, separating San Francisco's well-to-do from its working classes. Freddie Drummonda reserved, cool, inhibited sociologistventures across it to study the laborers who live there. He is a thoroughgoing intellectual, yet he once played football and boxed. He still possesses a powerful, athletic body that emerges as the hallmark of Big Bill Totts, his working-class alter ego, who enjoys the adrenaline, the drama, and the power he learns to wield in championing workers' rights. When Drummond as Big Bill falls in love with Mary Condona "graceful," "sinewy" labor organizer with "amazing black eyes"he realizes that he is in danger of having his alter ego take over his life. He decides to anchor himself safely north of the Slot by marrying the proper Catherine Van Vorst. In the story's violent conclusion, workers fight police, and the protagonist decides if he is Freddie or Big Bill. Good for use with students. 8 pages.
Two references in the story need explanation. "A Message to Garcia" (1898)written by Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), an editor, publisher, and business boosterappeared originally in The Philistine magazine. Later published as a book, forty million copies were in circulation by 1913. Hubbard's story praises the single-minded, unquestioning determination of U.S. Army Lieutenant Andrew S. Rowan, who overcame mountains and jungles to carry a message Cuban General Calixto García arranging for military cooperation between Cuban and American armies in the Spanish-American War. Employers distributed the "Message" to their workers to promote loyalty and perseverance and to discourage union sympathies. It is still considered a classic of business literature.
"Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch" (1901), the best known work of Louisville writer Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice (1870-1942), tells the story of a family that survives poverty through good-natured endurance. Enormously popular, it has been filmed three times. The 1934 version starred W. C. Fields.
- What is significant in Drummond's inability to malinger during his early jobs?
- Why does the narrator constantly refer to the titles of the books Drummond writes?
- Compare Mary Condon with Catherine Van Vorst.
- What different sorts of power does the story illustrate?
- What does the world south of the Slot represent?
- What causes Drummond's transformation?